There’s a reason why Bombay Bicycle Club is one of the most fascinating bands working today. Also, they are one of the most infuriating for the exact same reason.
While this Crouch End quartet’s start was one of media spectacle (entering in Virgin Mobile’s “Road to V” competition for a chance to win the opening spot of the annual V Festival—which they did), their impact has proven to be far more lasting than that of most competition winners. The band—featuring vocalist Jack Steadman, bassist Ed Nash, drummer Suren de Saram, and guitarist Jamie MacColl—had a biting, immediate indie-guitar sound that lined up well with their natural pop instincts, their 2009 debut full-length I Had the Blues But I Shook Them Loose garnering all sorts of critical acclaim. Yet a bevy of music videos and some ace live performances soon lead fans to discover that this band was actually doing something very different with their love of music: they were completely changing styles on each album.
A Different Kind of Fix
(A&M/Octone; US: 17 Jan 2012; UK: 26 Aug 2011)
‘lo and behold, 2010’s Flaws showcased the group’s sound going a more hushed, acoustic route, while 2011’s exuberant A Different Kind of Fix exhibited a more dance-y, knotty side to their sound, unafraid to still unleash a few rollicking guitar anthems but none the less proving that of all the new rock bands coming out of Northern London in the 2010’s, this was one that was not only exhilarating to watch, but also darn near impossible to pin down. Such genre fluctuation would infuriate most observers were it not for the fact that the band could still knock out killer songs left and right, which partially explains why every single one of their records has gone Gold.
Yet as busy as the group is in the midst of working on their fourth album (which we’re betting on to sound like some sort of Zydeco-punk hybrid), the marvelously funny and insightful Jamie MacColl still managed to find time to sit down and provide some lovely answers for PopMatters’ 20 Questions, talking about how powerful an impact You Forgot It in People had on his life, which Richard Gere movie recently made him cry, and why songs about gardening may very well be in their future.
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1. The latest book or movie that made you cry?
Embarrassingly I think it may have been the move Hachi: A Dog’s Tale. It’s about an Akita dog that faithfully waits in the same spot for nine years for its dead owner to come home. In my defense I was very hungover and in a fragile state of mind.
2. The fictional character most like you?
Judging from the amount of times people shout “Ron Weasley!” at me in the street most people would probably say him. It’s the curse of being a lanky ginger kid. What the people in the street don’t know is that I also share his both his awkwardness and ability to put his foot in it.
3. The greatest album, ever?
Well the albums I love no one would probably put into the greatest album ever category. I’m going to go for an album that defined my teenage years, You Forgot It in People by Broken Social Scene. This is the album that got me into alternative music and was probably the album that brought Jack (the singer in Bombay) and I together musically. I think the main thing that has the kept the band together when we’ve changed the sound so often is a fundamental shared passion for different kinds of music; crucially we love the same music.
4. Star Trek or Star Wars?
Despite being a big fan of J.J. Abrams’ latest Star Trek film I have to say Star Wars. The Star Wars films were a big part of my childhood and probably made me realize quite early on that I was a bit of a geek.
5. Your ideal brain food?
What has always driven the band creatively is being young in London and heartbreak. I think what we crave more than anything else is a life away from the band to actually have experiences to then turn into songs. It’s so easy to fall into that trap of only ever being on tour and then running out of things to write about. Having said that I don’t want any of us to have to go through heartbreak! Hopefully we’ll find something else to write about, maybe gardening?
6. You’re proud of this accomplishment, but why?
With the band I think I’m most proud of our last London gig. We sold out Alexandra Palace and played to 10,000, which was our largest headline show. I grew up just down the road from this venue and I can see it from my house as I write this. It felt like a very special moment and one of those nights that you will you only experience a few times in your life.
7. You want to be remembered for ...?
I want to be remembered for being more than just the guitarist in Bombay Bicycle Club—I don’t want to the rest of my life to be defined by something I did in my 20’s.
8. Of those who’ve come before, the most inspirational are?
Musically I think there are a number of guitarists from this era who inspire me. I have always loved Jack White and Josh Homme; they continue to set the standard for me. Graham Coxon though, from Blur, will probably always be my real guitar hero. I think he understands very well that playing guitar is often about doing less, his riffs and solos are simple but very well thought out and never escape your head.
9. The creative masterpiece you wish bore your signature?
I wish I had been the guy that invented Vitamin Water. WHAT A GENIUS. They essentially found a way to make billions from selling sugared water marketed as something healthy. Perhaps that’s not a creative masterpiece though. I recently read Life and Fate by Vasily Grossman and I felt that it perfectly encapsulated my thoughts on life and death, love and loss, and everything else that goes with it. That is probably the real creative masterpiece I wish I’d written.
10. Your hidden talents . . .?
I have two main party tricks. The first involves putting my leg behind my head the second involves playing the spoons. It’s safe to say that neither trick carries much weight with women. Playing the spoons seems to be somewhat of a family passion and one of the few things my dad has taught me.
11. The best piece of advice you actually followed?
My mum told me after I had my heart broken for the first time that “it’s important to always [look] forward and not back”. I’ve been trying to follow that piece of advice ever since, though not always successfully. It seems a good way to live your life and an even better way to get over a broken heart.
12. The best thing you ever bought, stole, or borrowed?
[Ed: this question was not answered]
13. You feel best in Armani or Levis or . . .?
As the rest of the band will testify to I’m at my happiest when wearing no clothes at all. Our bassist Ed and myself have been known to run stark naked through the streets of London after a successful gig. When I’m the company of people I don’t know that well I’ll settle for very short shorts and a sleeveless t-shirt.
14. Your dinner guest at the Ritz would be?
I just read Nikki Sixx’s biography and he sounds like he’d be an interesting dinner guest, though I’m sure he’s far more boring now he’s sober. I’d also like the President Bartlett from The West Wing; he would probably have some wonderful suggestions for our numerous current world crises. Finally I would have Major Richard Winters, who was made famous by the HBO series Band of Brothers. Sadly he recently passed away but I would love to hear some first hand accounts of what he did with Easy Company in WWII.
15. Time travel: where, when and why?
If someone could train me to be an assassin then I’d probably go back in time and kill Hitler (for obvious reasons) just after the First World War. From an entirely selfish point of view I’d like to go back to Ancient Athens or Rome; before the band took off I had a place at university to study Classics and so a chance to view that period first hand would be very exciting.
16. Stress management: hit man, spa vacation or Prozac?
Well what normally works for me is exercise so I suppose being a Hitman is the closet thing to that out of those three. Preferably the exercise will involve hitting something or someone. I recently suggested to Bombay’s manager that we start boxing together so we can take dish out some punishment on one another. I actually think that this would make excellent band therapy and I don’t know why no one else has thought of it.
17. Essential to life: coffee, vodka, cigarettes, chocolate, or . . .?
The two things that are essential for me are kind of a contradiction of one another. When I come back from tour the two things I crave the most are solitude and the company of my friends. Solitude because you never really get any time alone when you’re on the road and seeing my friends because they make me forget about my problems and just make me laugh till I’m sick.
18. Environ of choice: city or country, and where on the map?
Do I have to choose? I firmly believe that London is the greatest city in the world and I still can’t imagine living anywhere else. My favorite place in London is still Hampstead Heath, which remains a sanctuary nestled in the noise and whirl of the city itself.
19. What do you want to say to the leader of your country?
I would probably say that your economic policies are completely out of touch with the reality that most people live in at the moment. Most of all that we’ve tried austerity for the last few years and it’s pretty much be shown to have failed, we need stimulus and investment packages now. I also find it worrying that the summer riots from last year seem to have just been swept under the carpet and dismissed as hooliganism when they represent real youth alienation and dissatisfaction. Also I’d truly like to know the real story about his relationship with News International and the famous parties with the “Chipping Norton” set.
20. Last but certainly not least, what are you working on, now?
Right now we’re beginning work on our fourth album. Sadly, we currently don’t have much of a life outside the band and soon we will be mere cyborgs that take to the stage every night to play our instruments.